January 26

Augusta seeks storage options to replace Hodgkins, flatiron school buildings

Public concerns about spending $809,000 to build a heated storage building prompts a look for alternatives.

By Keith Edwards kedwards@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — City officials are looking into other storage options after concerns were raised about a proposal to build an $809,000, 12,600-square-foot heated building at the public works department to store city equipment and vehicles.

City officials have already set money aside in the capital improvement plan for the long-term proposal to construct a building to store items such as police and fire department equipment and park plow trucks loaded with sand and salt.

However, after the Kennebec Journal reported on the proposal, city officials say they have heard from constituents and saw comments left on an online version of the story that said the plan was too expensive. They also heard from building owners with available storage space who said they’d be willing to lease to the city.

“We had calls from a couple of reputable developers or large property owners in the city who advised they had storage space available for lease at a very reasonable term,” City Manager William Bridgeo told city councilors last week. “So we might be able to put out (a request for proposals) competitively, seeking heated storage that may, in a life cycle cost analysis, yield a better value than building a new building.”

Ralph St. Pierre, assistant city manager and finance director, said the city has been budgeting for the project since 2009, has about $360,000 set aside for it and has another $240,000 in this year’s proposed capital improvement plan.

Bridgeo suggested councilors keep those funds in the plan, but slow down on consideration of the proposed new storage building to consider other options.

The proposed new building or other options could provide a place to store equipment now kept in four different city facilities, each of which the city may not use for storage anymore in the near future.

Two former, vacant school buildings — the old Cony flatiron building and the former Hodgkins Middle School — where the city stores some items, soon won’t be usable for storage.

The city is in the process of striking a deal on a long term lease with developer Cindy Taylor of Housing Initiatives of New England to turn the flatiron into senior citizen housing. The city has been heating the historic structure, not used as a school since 2006, to keep it from being damaged during the winter, racking up roughly $70,000 in annual heating and maintenance costs.

The former Hodgkins building, vacant since it was closed as a school in 2009 when middle school students were moved to the new Cony High School, has not been heated and has fallen into disrepair.

“Hodgkins closed five years ago and went cold — no heat, no sprinkler system, no maintenance,” said Facilities and Systems Manager Bob LaBreck. “The roof leaked severely, and we’re starting to get black mold in there. We’re using it for some cold storage, but that’s going to come to an end. It’s rapidly getting tired. I’m here to let you know that building is not a viable option for cold storage.”

Bridgeo said that raises the question of what to do with Hodgkins. He said the most likely result will be the city will demolish it, or put it out to bid to see if anyone wants to buy the building and property, which sits off Malta Lane.

The proposed new building would also take the place of an old metal building at the city’s public works site off North Street, a building Bridgeo said is so old and decrepit the city can’t get full insurance for it. The heating building is used to store public works equipment and vehicles, including loaded sand and salt trucks which are parked there before storms so they’ll be ready to sand roads and won’t have the sand in the back freeze up due to the cold.

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